Seeking the Savior
“For reasons I cannot quite remember (perhaps the guidebooks or the guide himself told us it wasn't much to get worked up about), I wasn't excited to visit the birthplace of Christ [while on a study tour of Israel in the summer of 2000]. I recall wishing we could spend our time in Jerusalem, but I didn't have a choice. If the group was going to Bethlehem, I was, too.
We walked through the dusty streets of the town and soon came to the entrance to the Church of the Nativity. We stood in line for what seemed like hours, winding our way downward into a series of caves (though we often have nativity sets of barns and stables, Christ was actually born in a cave).
Once there, I was hushed by the holiness of it all. There were candles lit here, there, and everywhere. Hundreds were on their knees in prayer, scattered about on the cold, damp floor. We made our way to the traditional cave of the birth where we read Matthew's story once again. Soon we were singing. ‘O Holy Night,’ ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem,’ and ‘Silent Night.’
Right there in a church building that has been ravaged by war and terrorism and today is owned by four different religious groups, we prayed for peace. We offered a continued invitation for shalom. It was one of the more sacred moments of my life.
As we left, I passed by all the pilgrims yet again. Some were from Germany, Poland, or Italy and others from England, Spain, or China. They, too, sang and prayed. Anger and violence wrestled about in all our worlds, but in that moment we had all come together in Bethlehem to worship and celebrate the Prince of Peace who, if anything, was working shalom into the folds of our lives as he will until the day he returns to work it into all things, once-for-all.”
Brian Lowery, "Still Unto Us," Christian Standard magazine (12-17-06).
Seeking the perfect Cabbage Patch Doll
During the Cabbage Patch Doll craze my sister wanted one
She had specific things she wanted for her doll (blonde hair and saddle shoes were two things)
Our family was traveling over the holidays and decided to stop at a Hill’s Department store in some town
They were getting ready to hand out Cabbage Patch Dolls at the doors to their back storage area
Everyone was told, by the employees, that you had to take whatever doll was handed to you (you couldn’t request a specific doll)
While we were waiting, another family stepped in line in front of us
I remember that our family was pretty irritated by that, but we didn’t say anything
When my sister was handed her Cabbage Patch Doll, it had blonde hair and saddle shoes – just what she wanted
God is in control of everything and He allowed that family to step in line in front of us for a reason
Had we protested, my sister may have gotten a different doll
We had to trust God and be obedient to our Christian values, of being kind and compassionate, even in difficult situations
While it was frustrating for a little bit, the end result was beyond our imagination and fulfilled the desires of a young girl
Perhaps all of us can think of a time when we were confronted by frustration concerning something we’ve been seeking
Maybe we were seeking a certain item, especially during Black Friday shopping, only to find out that the item had already sold out
There are times when hunters have done all of the right things to prepare for the season, only to find out that someone else has harvested the buck, we’ve been scoping out and tracking, prior to opening day
It may take quite a bit of travel to eventually find the thing we’re seeking
In God’s sovereignty, He allows difficulties to come our way, so we’ll trust Him and many times the end result is beyond our wildest dreams and fulfills our heart’s desire
Through the very familiar Christmas story found in Luke’s Gospel, we’ll see that Mary and Joseph had to travel a long distance in order to be obedient to God through the census decree. It was probably a difficult journey, especially for Mary who was close to full term in her pregnancy. The shepherds also had to travel a short distance, after experiencing a frightening encounter with an angel and the glory of God, in order to be obedient to God. Luke wants us to understand that . . .
BIG IDEA – Finding the Savior requires obedience.
The Jews were seeking the Messiah (Savior). They were looking forward to His arrival.
GOD (Luke 2:1-20)
Mary & Joseph’s Obedience (vv. 1-7)
PRINCIPLE #1 – God controls all history.
God uses the events of this world to accomplish His purposes
That’s exactly what He was doing with Caesar Augustus and his decree about a census of the entire Roman world
Anyone who doesn’t believe in God or doesn’t believe that God is sovereign will look at Luke’s Gospel and say that the census decree was just a coincidence
Individuals who believe in God and that He is sovereign will recognize that God is in control of all history
John Cafarchio told me last week that the Sunday school lesson he taught hit some of the same points that the sermon did last week (that’s not coincidence, that’s God’s sovereignty and His control)
Pastor Marc and I were discussing the message he will be sharing on December 29, 2019 and it struck me that God moved some things around, in the preaching schedule, so that the passage of scripture Marc will be sharing fits perfectly with the beginning of the new year and an incredible initiative that will be introduced (I won’t step on Marc’s toes, but God is in control and He orchestrates things perfectly)
We could try to manufacture these kinds of things, but it’s much more powerful when God orchestrates them on our behalf (my prayer is that we’ll have eyes to see and ears to hear what God is doing and saying to us, so we don’t miss out on praising and glorifying Him)
How has God used events or circumstances in your life to accomplish His purposes?
Can you recall a specific situation where you saw God work things out, so that you knew He was in control?
Are you attuned to what God is doing in your life and at Idaville Church?
Are you listening to His voice?
Too often we have a preconceived idea of how we want God to work in our lives and how we want Him to answer our prayers
When we focus on that, we will miss what He is doing and saying to us
We have to be willing to submit to His will and plan
When we focus on Him, it will be easy to see what He is doing and hear what He is saying to us
God is in control of every circumstance in our lives, so we need to trust Him and follow His lead
My Next Step Today Is To: Watch and listen for ways that God is showing me that He is in control and then praise and glorify His name.
So, Caesar Augustus’ decree was not by chance, but by God’s sovereign providence and plan
Everyone went to his own town to register
“‘Own Town’ means one’s ancestral home.” [Stein, The New American Commentary, Luke, 106]
This is a little different for us today, because the United States is a melting pot of ethnic groups from all around the world
Perhaps you’re able to trace your lineage back to a specific country
Judy’s maiden name is Doolittle
That last name is pretty easy to trace back to England
Maybe you have a last name that’s easily traced back to a particular country
[Let the congregation share their country of origin]
Others of us have a more difficult time of determining our lineage
My own lineage is a melting pot
We are part Irish (Kennedy), part Swiss German (Rife [Reif], Hykes, & Johns), part Native American (Seneca, from my mother’s side)
Tschantz (Swiss German farmers) became Johns in the United States
The simplest way for us to relate to our “own town” would be to think about the town where we were born or perhaps the town where our parents were born
My parents would claim Chambersburg and Greencastle as their birth place
I was born in Huntington, IN
[Let the congregation share where they or their parents were born]
Just imagine if we had to return to the town where we were born in order to register for taxation
“The census, which could be controversial, uses customs that would be the least offensive. For Jews an ancestral registration would be a most natural way to sign up for taxes (2 Sam. 24).” [Bock, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Luke, 204]
Caesar Augustus was using the path of least resistance in order to accomplish his goal of tax income
That’s what Joseph and Mary had to do, but they had to trace their lineage back hundreds of years to King David and what was considered his home town
So, Joseph and Mary set out on their journey
Joseph and Mary were living in the town of Nazareth in the region of Galilee when the decree was communicated
They had to travel 70 miles south to the town of Bethlehem in the region of Judea, or 90 miles if they bypassed Samaria
It would take about 33 hours to walk that distance, so it was at least a three to four-day journey for them
Bethlehem was at a higher elevation than Nazareth, which explains Luke’s use of, “went up,” even though they were traveling south
While it only mentions that Joseph belonged to the house and line of David, we know that Mary could also trace her lineage back to David
Mary would not have been required to go to Bethlehem to register with Joseph, because the registration would have been for the entire family
But, I can only imagine that Mary wanted her husband to be there for the birth of her first child
Both Mary and Joseph had been visited by an angel telling them about the child Mary was carrying
I’m sure Joseph didn’t want to miss this incredible birth of the Messiah
All of this was taking place because God is in control of all history
It was foretold hundreds of years before, that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem
Micah 5:2, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.
So, Mary and Joseph had to be obedient to God, through the census that Caesar Augustus had decreed, in order to see the Savior
Finding the Savior requires obedience.
Jesus is born!
“While they were there” is a non-specific time identifier
Luke doesn’t give us the exact timeframe of how long Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem before Jesus was born
He just tells us that “the time came for the baby to be born”
Mary gives birth to her firstborn, a son
She does what all mothers did at that time, and used pieces of cloth to wrap Him up
The cloths helped to keep the baby warm, but it also helped to keep their arms and legs straight
We call this swaddling today
Seth and Emily were pros at this with our granddaughter, Kinsley
When she would be fussy, they would wrap her up tight in a perfect swaddle and Kinsley would settled down and be able to sleep
It gave her comfort and warmth and she felt secure
They can’t do this anymore, because she’s rolling over on her own
Mary also did something that most mothers probably did not do at that time
After she swaddled Him, she placed Him in an animal feeding trough (manger)
The reason Luke gives, is that there was no room for them in the inn
The inn should not be mistaken for a hotel or motel in our day and age
It would be more like a hostel where everything was shared
“The ‘inn’ probably refers to a public caravansary (a crude overnight lodging place for caravans), which was the one lodging place in Bethlehem.” [Stein, 107]
The stable was perhaps beside this public shelter in a cave
Mary and Joseph took refuge in the stable since there wasn’t any more places available in the public shelter area
The unique cradle for Jesus was again by God’s design and purpose
We don’t know if there were other babies born that night, but if there were, Jesus would be the only One using a feeding trough as a cradle
This would be an important sign for the shepherds, as we’ll see
Mary and Joseph have been obedient to God by following the decree to register in their ancestral home town of Bethlehem
Luke then tells us of a group of guys hanging out in the fields outside Bethlehem
Shepherd’s Obedience (vv. 8-20)
Shepherds (v. 8)
Who were these shepherds?
Some characterize shepherds as dishonest and despised by the culture of the day, but those views come primarily from 5th Century literature and writings
“Shepherds in an agrarian society (crops and farmland) may have small landholdings, but these would be inadequate to meet the demands of their own families, the needs of their own agricultural pursuits, and the burden of taxation. As a result, they might hire themselves out to work for wages. They were, then, peasants located toward the bottom of the scale of power and privilege.” [Green, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, The Gospel of Luke, 130]
This did not mean that they were dishonest
In fact, the shepherd motif in the Bible is primarily positive
In the Old Testament we find that Abraham, Moses, and David had all been shepherds at one time in their lives [Bock, 213]
The New Testament even uses the concept of a shepherd to identify leaders within a church, and how they lead the church as shepherding (taking care of the flock) [Bock, 213]
The shepherds were perhaps taking care of the sheep that were used for sacrifices at the temple
Because of their occupation, they were considered ceremonially unclean and could not worship at the temple
Read 1 Corinthians 1:26-31
So, these peasant farmers who had hired themselves out as shepherds were watching the sheep in the middle of the night, when something incredible happened!
Angel’s announcement (vv. 9-14)
The shepherds are minding their own business and perhaps talking quietly around a camp fire when all of sudden there is another person there with them
They don’t mistake this person for another shepherd or a townsperson, because God’s glory is shining around them
Isaiah 60:19, The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory.
Revelation 21:23, The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.
In the darkness of night, it becomes like daylight
What do cockroaches do when we turn a light on? (they scatter in fear)
What’s our reaction when we’ve been in the darkness for a long time and sudden a bright light is turned on? (we may jump because of being startled)
The shepherd’s reaction is no different (they are terrified)
The angel’s words
“Do not be afraid”
This is not the first time that the angel of the Lord has had to comfort those to whom he has visited and brought a message
He had to do the same thing with Zechariah (Luke 1:12-13) and Mary (Luke 1:29-30) [Butler, Holman New Testament Commentary, Luke, 29]
“I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people”
The Greek word for “good news” is euangelizomai and means “to proclaim and preach the good news” [Bock, 215; Stein, 108]
The good news was that on that same day in Bethlehem a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord
Savior (soter) – Jesus will deliver His people [Mary (Luke 1:46-55) and Zechariah’s (Luke 1:67-79) hymns expressed this truth]
Christ – it comes from the Greek word for “Anointed One” and speaks of Jesus’ as the Messiah (the promised One)
Lord – “the holy, unspeakable personal name of God himself” [Butler, 30]
This Greek verb (euangelizō) and noun (euangelion) are where we get our English word evangelism
We’re commanded to do the same thing that the angel did with the shepherds, proclaim and preach the good news of Jesus Christ
The message of the Gospel (good news) should bring us great joy
“Gospel elicits joy, not fear. Joy is the inward feeling of happiness and contentment that bursts forth in rejoicing and praise.” [Butler, 29]
All the people
PRINCIPLE #2 – Jesus came for all people.
Now this doesn’t mean we’re automatically guaranteed salvation and heaven
We’re all born with a desire to have our own way (it’s called our sinful nature)
David spoke about being sinful from the time he was conceived, which means from the time life begins in the womb (Rom. 3:23)
Jesus came to take the punishment we deserve, for our sinful, rebellious nature (Rom. 6:23; 1 Cor. 15:3-4)
John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
My Next Step Today Is To: Believe in Jesus and His perfect sacrifice for my sins on the cross and receive God’s gift of eternal life.
The angel doesn’t command the shepherds to go into Bethlehem and find Jesus, but what the angel says next is specific information on how to identify the correct baby
So, it’s implied that they should go to Bethlehem and check out this incredible baby
They’ll know they’ve found the right place when they find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger (feeding trough)
What the shepherds get next is a heavenly choir concert
A great company of angels join the angel who had told them about Jesus and they begin to worship God
They glorify God, because He has fulfilled His promise of sending a Savior
This Savior is going to bring peace between God and those in humanity who believe in Jesus, repent of their sins, and accept His gift of eternal life (on whom his favor rests)
PRINCIPLE #3 – Jesus brings peace between God and humanity.
Romans 5:1-2, Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
Ephesians 2:14-16, For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.
As soon as the angels returned to heaven the shepherds started talking among themselves
Shepherd’s response (vv. 15-20)
The shepherds understood the implied message from the angel
They couldn’t wait to see with their own eyes what the Lord had made known to them
They had to obey what the Lord had told them through the angel
Finding the Savior requires obedience.
PRINCIPLE #4 – God’s desire is that His people seek Jesus.
That’s exactly what the shepherds did
They found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger
The idea behind the word found is that they searched, without stopping, until they found the right baby
That’s perhaps where some of us are today
We’ve been searching for true peace
We’ve looked at many different religions, but still haven’t found the peace of God
If that’s you, I want to encourage you to keep searching, keep seeking, until you find Jesus
Don’t ever give up
He came for you!
After the shepherds found Jesus they didn’t just sit there at the manger for the rest of their lives, rather, they started telling other people about Him
They told everyone what they had seen and heard about Jesus, the Messiah
Those who heard were amazed
That doesn’t mean that they believed in Jesus as the Messiah or their Savior
The same will be true for us when we share with others about Jesus
They may see a radical change in us and think how amazing that transformation is, but still not believe in Jesus as their Savior
Some people are excited for us and that it “worked” for us, but still not believe it will “work” for them
Our responsibility isn’t to save them, but to faithfully share the Gospel (good news) with them
My Next Step Today Is To: Faithfully share the Gospel with those I come in contact with.
I would encourage you to begin praying each day for divine appointments to share the Gospel and then be on the look out
Jesus commanded His disciples and us to do this continually (Matt. 28:18-20)
Making disciples is more than just a quick Gospel presentation and a prayer
When someone responds to the Gospel it means walking together with them as they grow in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18)
That takes a lifetime
Mary was contemplative and took Jesus’ miraculous birth and the incredible story of the heavenly host that the shepherds shared with her and remembered them with fondness – it would be something she would never forget, but return to continually as she raised Jesus
The shepherds weren’t done
After seeing Jesus and telling others about Him, they returned to the fields outside Bethlehem, but they didn’t do it quietly
They glorified and praised God for all that He had done
Have we done that recently?
Let’s do that this morning
We added 2 new members this past year (“Thank you God, we praise You!”)
We know of 2 individuals who accepted Jesus as their Savior (“Thank you God, we praise You!”)
There were 8 people baptized this year (“Thank you God, we praise You!”)
There were 5 children dedicated to the Lord ((“Thank you God, we praise You!”)
There were people who were healed this year through supernatural means or through surgery (“Thank you God, we praise You!”)
There were people who were spared even though they went through an accident (“Thank you God, we praise You!”)
There were individuals and families who experienced restored relationships (“Thank you God, we praise You!”)
We had individuals in our lives who were promoted to heaven (“Thank you God, we praise You!”)
God is worthy of our praise and worthy to be glorified!
God controls all history, including the circumstances you are currently going through
Jesus came for all people to bring peace between God and us
God’s desire is that we seek Jesus
As a body of believers we need to share the Gospel with others
As a body of believers we need to rejoice in what God has done
As you celebrate Christ’s birth with family this Christmas, take time to remember the significance of what God did in fulfilling His plan of salvation through His One and only Son, Jesus Christ. Make sure that you are seeking the Savior during this season and all year long.